I’ve taken the Spurs in this series, +120. That’s not a great price for the team that doesn’t have home court. But I think it’s a good bet, regardless. Home court doesn’t mean diddly to this uber-experienced, uber-tough Spurs team. As their round one humiliation of the Mavericks showed.
One of the reasons I like the Spurs is health. Ginobili, Parker and Hill all appear healthy, for the first time in dog’s years. Tim Duncan is far from his prime, but he also appears healthier than he was at this time last year. The Suns, on the other hand, have a major injury concern: Steve Nash. Nash aggravated his bad back in the Portland series. Which leads me into my matchup analysis.
Nash v. Parker and Hill: How in the world can the Suns guard these two players? In the Portland series, Gentry made a bold move in putting Grant Hill on Andre Miller. It worked to perfection against the slow as molasses Miller. But its a complete non-starter against the Spurs’ speed demons.
Which means Nash will be left trying to guard them. Which means they will be virtually unguarded all series long. Which means serious, serious pain for the Suns. Greg Popovich is not Nate McMillan. He does not have a mental block against game-planning his offense to attack the weakest link in the Suns’ defense. He will attack Nash in the first quarter. He will attack Nash in the fourth quarter. He will attack Nash in the quarters in between. He will attack Nash until blood pours from Alvin Gentry’s ears.
He was schooled by Don Nelson, and he learned his lessons well.
J-Rich v. Ginobili: J-Rich ran free against Portland, whose coach mysteriously refused to guard him with Nick Batum. (Guard J-Rich with Batum, and Grant Hill with Roy? Too complicated.) J-Rich nailed his open threes, putting up some nice lines, which lead to some wonderful stories in the media about his “resurgence” and “coming into his own.”
You can throw those stories in the trash. J-Rich will be guarded in this series by Ginobili and Keith Bogans, both terrific on the ball defenders. And again, Greg Popovich is not Nate McMillan. His defenders will force J-Rich to put the ball on the floor, which, as Warriors fans might remember, is not a good thing. Expect J-Rich’s lines to start resembling Vince Carter’s.
The other side of the ball will be even uglier. To call J-Rich a poor defender is to be nice. Manu Ginoboli will eat him up. As will George Hill, when Pop plays the small backcourt. In fact, J-Rich is such an inviting target that I’m worried it might distract Pop from attacking Nash.
Naw, not going to happen.
Stoudemire v. Duncan: This is the sole matchup I see on the court that goes the Suns’ way. The question is, how much will it favor the Suns? I have memories of Stoudemire, pre-knee surgery, dropping consecutive 40 point games on Duncan in the playoffs a few years ago. Can he still do that? He couldn’t do it against Camby. Stoudemire will have to be absolutely huge in this series for the Suns to prevail.
And he will have to avoid foul trouble while guarding the basket from the rampaging Tony Parker and George Hill.
Conclusion: Much has been made in the press, and in particular by the talking heads on TNT, about the Suns “greatly improved” defense. Hogwash. In the last series, the Suns faced a completely incompetent and overmatched coach, with a decimated team. In this series, they’re facing the best coach in basketball, at the controls of a championship roster.
Prepare to see the scorched jerseys of Steve Nash and Jason Richardson lying in tatters on the court. Jared Dudley, the Suns “stopper” off the bench, will be completely useless. Who will he guard, Manu Ginobili? No way. Richard Jefferson? Fine. The ball won’t be in his hands.
The Spurs have won 4 straight playoff series against the Suns. Make that 5.
Bonus Coverage: Celtics v. Cavs
The Celtics appeared to be right there in game 1, dominating the play for most of the game, before Lebron took over in the fourth. But isn’t that always the way it is going against Lebron?
Here’s what the Celtics need to do to win game 2:
1) Take a rejuvenation pill so that they can still hit their shots in the fourth quarter.
2) Get serious against Mo Williams. Williams caught fire late, and spurred the Cavs late run. Rondo and Tony Allen can shut him down.
3) Send Shaq to the line. Who is the genius who allowed Shaq to rampage for layups in the fourth quarter? Tom Thibodeau? I hope he takes over the Lakers after Big Chief Triangle is run out of town.
4) Take out a contract on David Stern.